Days 102 + 103
Day 102: Mile 984.3 | Dicks Dome / Wiskey Hollow Shelters
I woke up at 8am and was out of camp by 9:30am. The sky had cleared up and the fog began to lift. We had realized a couple of days before that Miles might be low on food. We kept looking for opportunities to go into town but we had hiked through Front Royal at night and we hadn’t gotten enough food in Luray. Not too far from where we were camping was a road into a town. 2 miles into town was the Apple House restaurant. In the guide book they said they were hiker friendly and offered rides from the trail head for free. Next door was a convenience store that could get us by and the owner also offered to take us to a grocery store if we needed.
We hiked through the mud into town and waited for him by the road. He came as soon as we called! When we arrived the sun was finally out and it was hot. He let us put our stuff in the sun in the parking lot to dry. Inside the A/C was cool. He showed us to their newly opened bar where we ordered food and flights of beer. He even gave us some apple cider donuts on the house!
We ate lunch and charged our phones. I went to the gas station and got more snacks. Miles didn’t. I got a bit annoyed with him. We came into town because he said he didn’t have enough food and now I was the one leaving with more food. He said lunch had been enough to keep him going it would be fine. I rolled my eyes. I couldn’t force him to go get food but I knew he’d be eating some of mine later.
We finished drying out our stuff and got a ride back to the trail head. As soon as we started up the trail it began to downpour. Flash flooding started almost immediately. The trail turned into a river. It rained so hard I couldn’t even get a photo. We made it to a shelter a couple miles from the restaurant and posted up there til it stopped raining. We met Moss, and a thru-hiker, and her friend who was section hiking with her. We chatted with them about the trials and tribulations of rain on the trail.
Miles and I started up a chess game. He was holding the board as there wasn’t much space to put it down. Half way through the game he stopped paying attention and accidentally dropped the chess board. All of the tiny travel-sized pieces scattered in the nasty under shelter dirt. Brand new chess board, all the pieces on the ground.... we scoured the ground and found all but three. Then we lifted up the grate that was used as a step up into the shelter and found two more. The last sliver pawn was never found. But we still had most of the pieces!
The sun finally came out again after a while and I decided I wanted to get a few more miles in. We were trying to get to Bear’s Den Hostel the next night to shower and get out of all the rain and it was 22 miles away. In between us and the shelter was 70% of the Rollercoaster, a 13 mile section with 13 peaks. It came to be when the US Forest Service acquired land next to a 10 mile stretch of trail that was originally road walking. This acquisition made it so hikers didn’t have to leave the woods. Trail boss and his crew maintain this stretch. The Rollercoaster was tough and I wasn’t about to underestimate it and push a long, hard day. I decided I would go 5 more miles.
Miles didn’t want to go. He was tired and wanted to stay at this shelter. We hadn’t camped apart since we started together. And I felt weird about it. I knew I’d be fine and I’d see him the next day but it still gave me anxiety for some reason. I guess we’d been together for so long that it just felt weird. He wasn’t budging, though, he didn’t want to come with me and I didn’t want to stop short. So I moved on. We agreed to meet near a gap up ahead in the morning.
I hiked on. The rain stayed at bay but the clouds remained overhead, making the evening trail dim. I arrived to the next shelter around dusk and made my way down the blue blaze. It was a poorly maintained blue blaze, and a confusing one at that. The storm had made it so the river that the shelter sat on was so flooded you couldn’t tell how to get across it. My feet were already soaked so I sloshed through the river. As I approached Dick’s Dome, the original shelter for this location, a geodesic dome, I saw it was full. When I got closer o realized it was Josh, Mark, Tang, and Murdock! It was a pleasant surprise. They didn’t usually frequent shelters. We chatted for a bit and they told me about the new shelter a little further up the blue blaze. It was obvious I wouldn’t fit in the dome with them, besides I’d snore far too loudly to sleep in there.
I headed up the blue blaze after I gathered some water. When I arrived at the Whiskey Hollow Shelter there were only two other people there: Babganoush (the second one I met) and Concrete Cowboy. They were friendly. They’d set up in the loft of the shelter so I had the whole first floor all to myself! I rolled out my sleeping pad on the newly polyurethaned floor and blew it up. They offered for me to join them for dinner. We talked about the rain, of course, and food selections. I love getting food ideas from other hikers.
After dinner I went outside and went to the bathroom one last time. I sprayed powder on my legs where my compression shorts had trapped moisture on the skin and started causing heat rash. Back inside the shelter I cozied into my sleeping bag and went to sleep as more rain began to fall.
Day 103: Mile 1003.2 | Bear’s Den Hostel
I got up early. My leg was itchy. I put my headlamp on and looked at my thigh. Three tiny black dots appeared where it itched. I inspected more closely. TICKS! Three tiny ticks the size of pin heads were stuck in my thigh. I grabbed my first aid kit from my toiletries bag and tried to find my tweezers. Why couldn’t I find my tweezers?! Then I remembered I let Miles use them at Open Arms Hostel. I thought he’d given them back. Maybe he hadn’t?
Either way I had no tweezers and my fingernails weren’t long enough to get ticks that small out. I knew I had at least 24 hours before they transmitted disease. I knew I’d see Miles and get my tweezers back sometime this morning. I should be fine, I thought. I calmly packed up the rest of my stuff.
I had about 18 miles to do that were going to be tough. The way the guide book made it sound there were only 10 bunks and laundry could only be done from 5pm-9pm at this ATC run hostel. I wanted to get there before 5. I was out of camp by 6:15am, the sun had just risen. The rain had cleared up again. I quickly caught up to Josh, thankfully. He didn’t have tweezers but he easily removed the ticks with his fingernails. Relief flooded me and I felt so much better.
It had been a while since I walked with Josh. We caught up a lot. He remarked on how much I’d changed. He said I was a lot calmer and more confident now. It felt good to hear that from someone I’d bonded with earlier on the trail. Along our walk we encountered a turtle! Which Murdock, of course, had to sniff:
We walked together until Ashby Gap, where I’d told Miles I’d meet him. Josh pushed on ahead. I sat by the side of the trail and leaned against my pack. I was so tired from waking up early and my sleep cycle was so off. I started eating a Lara Bar.... twenty minutes later I awoke with my head on my knees in front of me. I’d fallen asleep, halfway through a Lara Bar, while waiting for Miles. It was around 10:45am now. I wanted to get to the hostel by 5pm. I still had time but I wanted to get a move on with 13 miles still ahead of me. After waiting for 45 minutes, I wrote Miles a note and put it in a baggies with a Clif bar (he totally didn’t have enough food). I stuck it to the fence at the side of the trail with Leukotape and started walking again.
I caught up to Josh about a mile and a half later. He was drying out his gear next to a river. I talked to him for a bit. We did the math: if I left now and didn’t stop for any breaks more than 10 minutes while doing 2 miles per hour through the roller coaster. I started to lower my expectations. I didn’t want to get my hopes up for a shower and laundry and food and salt chafe relief if it wasn’t possible. I decided if I wasn’t going to get there by 5pm I might as well chill out so I put on a podcast and went to set off up the trail. I heard yelling through my headphones almost as soon as I crossed the stream. When I turned back I saw Miles, Tang, and Mark with Josh. I stopped and turned back. They all took out their gear to dry it in the sun. I took a break with them and ate another snack. A butterfly landed on my hand while we were there!
We all hit the trail together after our snacks. Josh and Tang were planning on meeting Journeyman (who previously took us all in when we were in Asheville, NC) at Bear’s Den and hiking with him to Boiling Springs, PA. So we were all going to the same place.
Eventually we all settled into our own paces and began walking separately. I was the first one to make it to the rollercoaster. I put my headphones in and listened to a podcast while I tackled the first climb. It was hot but I stayed hydrated. Sweat poured off my face and soaked my clothes. I stopped for a break after the third peak by a river. The salt chafe kicked in again and my back hurt like I had laid on stinging nettles. I couldn’t stand still and it stung like mad. I took off my shirt and walked right into the river and laid down. My shorts were already soaked with sweat anyway! The relief from the cold water felt so good.
I laid in the cold water for a few minutes. Eventually, when the stinging subsided I got up and dried off with my camp towel. I put my pack back on and started walking again, up the fourth peak. I listened to Radiolab’s live show via podcast for the next few climbs. And eventually I made it to 1,000 miles!
Shortly after 1,000 I came up a hill and saw some boulders that were Bear’s Den’s name sake. I found the blue blaze to the hostel and followed it up a gravel road. I rounded the corner at 6pm and saw a big stone gate. Just inside was a big stone house (apparently a model castle) and a gazebo. The perfectly mowed green lawn glimmered in the afternoon light and dew of last nights rain. It looked like heaven. On the other side of the lawn I saw TNT and Biscuits of the Woo Crew!
I went over to say hi to them. TNT had just gotten new shoes! They told me they were going into DC with a friend tonight. We talked about the hostel and how cool it was. They told me about the hiker special: $30 for a bunk, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, a frozen pizza, a soda, and laundry. The best deal I’ve ever gotten at a hostel. I bid them farewell as their ride to DC arrived and I headed down to the hiker entrance to check in. As I was taking my pack off I saw Journeyman pull into the parking lot! He had Murdock with him. He went and picked up Josh, Tang, Mark, Knots, and Stripes packs so that they could slackpack the rollercoaster. We chatted a bit about what’s been going on since I last saw him. He said I seem much happier now. Even a person I had only met thrice noticed a change in me! I was proud of myself for a moment. But then I remembered the salt chafe, it was kicking in again now that I was standing still. I parted with Journeyman to go check in.
Upstairs I got the hiker special and found a bunk. Then I went to shower as quickly as possible. The cold shower was a great relief. I used a washcloth and dabbed my back with cold, soapy water. Rubbing the skin hurt too much. I felt a few small cuts on my lower back from where my pack had rubbed the back of my hips. I scrubbed the caked on dirt off of my inner calves and washed my arm pits four times over. After a very long shower, I got out and dried off.
I made my frozen pizza and ate it with Jeans (Shirt Pants’ brother). Eventually Miles arrived and got the hiker special, too. I hung around and talked to some hikers for a while. I went outside to the gazebo and called Chelsea, my friend in Iowa. I ate my pint with Miles. Shirt Pants told us that he was discussing get off trail with his parents. He was only 17 and they wanted him to keep hiking but he wanted to go home. We listened and tried to convince him to stay. We weren’t sure if we’d see them again.
We retired to bed as the rain started falling outside. Sometime in the night I woke up to the sound of crinkling plastic. It looked like everyone was asleep, though. I got up and looked around when it didn’t stop. I shined my red headlamp light into the Trashman by the door. A mouse looked back up at me from the bottom of the trash can! I took the whole trash can outside and left it on the front steps. I returned to bed and finally fell asleep after that.